SERMON ON A PSALM OF VENGEANCE
BY DIETRICH BONHOEFFER

From Gesammelte Schriften, Band IV, pp. 413-422, “Predigt über einen Rachepsalm,” July 11, 1937.

PSALM 58

1.Do you indeed speak righteousness, Oyou judges, do you judge the children of men fairly?

2.No, at heart you work iniquity; you deal out the violence of your hands in the land,

3.The godless are perverse from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.

4.Their poison is like a serpent’s venom, like a deaf adder that stops its ear,

5.So that it does not hear the voice of charmers charming ever so skillfully.

6.O God, break the teeth in their mouths; shatter the fangs of the young lions, OGod!

7.Let them melt away like water that runs continuously. As he aims his arrows, let those be as split apart.

8.Let them be like the snail which dissolves into slime, like an untimely birth that never sees the sun.

9.Sooner than your pots can feel the heat of thorns whether green or ablaze, may he sweep them away.

10.The righteous will ignore when he sees such vengeance; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked,

11.Men will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous; there is truly a God who judges on earth.”


467 – A Bonhoeffer Sermon

Is this frightful Psalm of vengeance our prayer? Are we actually allowed to pray in such a manner? At first the answer to this question is totally clear, “No, we are certainly not permitted to pray like that. Indeed, we have to shoulder much of the blame for the hostility we encounter and which gets us into trouble. We have to confess that it is God’s righteous punishment which strikes and humbles us sinful men.” Even in these times of the church’s distress we are compelled to recognize that God himself in his anger has raised his hand against us to afflict us with our own sin, all our spiritual indolence, our open or inward disobedience, the profound lack of discipline in our everyday lives under his word. Or would we want to deny that each personal sin, even the most hidden, must bring down God’s wrath, call down God’s revenge on our enemies without this revenge hitting us even harder? No, we are not able to pray this Psalm. Not because we would be too good for it (what a superficial thought, what inconceivable arrogance!), but because we are too sinful, too evil for it.

Only he who is totally without sin can pray like that. This Psalm of vengeance is the prayer of the innocent. “For the chief musician; to the tune, Do not Destroy, by David, a refuge Psalm.” It is David who prays this Psalm. David himself is not innocent. But it pleased God to prepare for himself in David the one who will be called the Son of David, Jesus Christ. The reason David must not lose his life is because the Christ is to come from him. David could never have prayed for himself against his enemies in order to preserve his own life. We know that David humbly endured all personal abuse. But Christ, and therefore the church of God, is in David. Thus his enemies are the enemies of Jesus Christ and his holy church. For that reason Christ himself is praying this Psalm in David-and with Christ the universal holy church. No, we sinners are not praying this song of vengeance; innocence itself is praying it. The innocence of Christ steps before the world and accuses it. We do not accuse it, Christ does.

When Christ takes action against sin, aren’t we ourselves right in the midst of the accused as well?

For the rest of the Sermon…

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